Tips on Teaching

How Do I Get My Students to Read the Assignment?

Textbook imageby Kim Levenhagen PT, DPT, WCC, Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training

This has been a problem for me since my early years of teaching: I would come to class after assigning a reading ready for a robust conversation in the classroom.  Then, I would pose a softball of a question to the class to begin the discussion only to hear crickets.  I would leave the classroom with my head down and spirit crushed.  After my first year, I simply asked students why they did not come to class prepared.  The answers ranged from “you don’t assign points” and “you just lecture on it any way so why read.”  I discovered the problem was I did not hold the students accountable for the readings and assist them in understanding the importance of the information.  So I changed my approach to the readings and my expectations with much better results.  Here are three ways I made a change in the classroom.

  • Teach reading strategies

I discovered that many students arrive to college having never picking up a textbook or an article.  They often will give up due to the enormity of the readings in multiple classes.  One of the textbooks I use is over a thousand pages.  The students quickly become overwhelmed after leaving the bookstore.  I take them through how to successfully navigate the reading by previewing the graphics, italicized words, and headings prior to starting their more in-depth reading.  I provide learning objectives on what I consider important.  Often students will highlight the entire book becoming frustrated when they return to the chapter to study.  Weimer (2002) builds highlighting into her first two classes.  She asks the students to highlight reading assignments.  She then shows them what she has highlighted so the students’ learn how to tease out the pertinent information as it relates to her expectations.

  • Explain why the readings are important

I start the semester providing a rationale for my selection of required readings. I recognize the students have more to do than my class so I let them know that my readings have been carefully selected.  I only assign the pages that are pertinent to the discussion and explain the purpose, value and relevance of the readings to the course objectives.  I clearly define the expectations for the readings as they relate to assignments and exams.  Finally, I stopped “spoon feeding” the information from the readings in class.  I related key pieces from the readings to the discussion but I stopped lecturing on the articles themselves.

  • Hold the students accountable

I learned long ago that if points are not associated with the assignment, students are not likely to complete it.  The students perceive if there are no points then it is not important.  I cannot expect my students to have the same passion as I do about the topic.  So I have assignments with most of my readings.  This can take shape in a number of ways such as a reflection paper, on line or in class quiz, or a case study.  Some of the faculty in my department use “Top Hat” which is an automated response system. The students answer questions regarding the assignment at the beginning of class.  Top Hat, similar to Clickers, provides instant feedback on the number of correct responses so faculty can recognize which areas require further discussion.  Assignments need to be structured so that students engage in classroom discussion.

These changes are not innovative or extensive but they have led to improved classroom discussion. As faculty it is our responsibility to assist our students in the learning process to achieve success.